5 Camp Questions


The past seven Charger seasons have been mindnumbingly crazy. Ever since 2004 when they came out of nowhere and won the AFC West with a 12-4 record after going 4-12 the year before, being a Charger fan has been like being best friends with a schizophrenic. You really never know what you’re going to get. They won our hearts with regular seasons where they’ve looked unstoppable (2006, 2009). They’ve given us hope with seasons like 2007 when we believed they would eventually break through and win a Super Bowl. And of course they’ve squatted over us with seasons like 2010, 2005 and 2008 where they looked like world-beaters for one game and like holy hell the very next week. (One day I’ll look back at those years as the years that may have potentially turned me into an alcoholic).

This year’s Chargers have a bit of a different feel to them. Maybe it’s the lockout or because they missed the playoffs last year or because they are no longer considered an “elite” team; but it’s been hard for me to figure out the ’11 squad. Some questions need to be answered and here are the five that will tell us what type of team these guys will be by the time they break camp.

1. Is Ryan Matthews the 2011 version of Albert Haynesworth?
I’m overreacting of course, but we’re on Day 3 of the Ryan Matthews watch and it’s starting to have a bit of that feel from last summer where everyone wondered if Haynesworth would be in good enough shape to practice or not. It’s also interesting that Matthews was drafted and touted as a “high-character” guy yet in his second season, he irresponsibly shows up to camp out of shape even though he’s pegged to be the starting RB on a team with Super Bowl aspirations. Say what you want about Vincent Jackson’s off the field problems, but he sat out the first 11 games of last season and came back ready to play. Matthews so far has had a fumble problem that he couldn’t shake from last season and came to camp without his legs to start this season.

2. Who’s going to pressure the QB?
I spent the weeks leading up to the draft praying that the Chargers would draft an OLB who can get to the QB and I’ve spent the past two weeks practically begging them to sign one. As it stands, the Chargers are placing a lot of hope in Larry English, a guy who really hasn’t earned the right to be the starting OLB. First they need English to stay healthy — something he hasn’t been able to do in his first two seasons in the league. Next they need him to be good — something we’re not exactly sure he is. If English isn’t both of those things the Chargers pass rush will count on Shaun Phillips being able to consistently beat double teams and the combo of backups Antwan Barnes and Travis LaBoy making an impact. When they have been good, the Chargers defense has relied on the front 7 masking a suspect secondary. This year, unless English pans out, the secondary looks as though it will have to be good enough to conceal a subpar pass rush.

3. Where’s the depth at WR?
On paper the Chargers look fine at WR, especially since they have Antonio Gates at TE. You have Gates, with VJ and Crayton on the outside and rookie Vincent Brown working the slot. However, am I the only person who remembers that last season when Gates, Crayton and Malcolm Floyd were hurt, the Chargers at one point had Kelley Washington and Seyi Ajirotutu starting at WR? The situation screams for the Chargers to bring in another veteran WR. I realize the Chargers are not done. Ideally they bring back M80 but other names out there include Jerricho Cotchery and Steve Smith of the Giants. Whatever they do, they need to bring in some depth at WR because if we see Phil Rivers showing Tutu or Washington how to run routes in the 4th quarter of a close game you know it will be a long season.

4. Is Corey Liuget legit?
Of course Liuget needs to get to camp so we can find out. As @Joosef pointed out on Twitter the other day, isn’t the new CBA supposed to prevent rookie holdouts? Apparently, old habits are hard to break for AJ Smith whose reputation for reaching for 1st round picks and then not signing them in time for camp has become borderline ridiculous. The Chargers drafted Liuget to help a D-Line that wore out during some games last season (see @STL) and got punked in others (see OAK). If he doesn’t pan out or isn’t in camp in time to be effective early, the Chargers are basically bringing back the same D-Line rotation as last season. Four out of their first five games are against teams that love to run the rock: MIN, KC, MIA and @DEN with John Fox. Liuget needs to be ready to go and it’s a shame that AJ Smith doesn’t recognize this.

5. Who will be the other ILB?
It was a shrewd move by AJ Smith to bring in Takeo Spikes who provides veteran leadership and toughness at ILB that we haven’t seen since the days of Randal Godfrey and Donnie Edwards. Almost as important, Spikes should be a terrific mentor to young ILBs Donald Butler and Jonas Mouton. However, while both have potential neither are ready to start and the Chargers have a gaping hole at the other ILB spot they need to fill before the season starts. The price for Kevin Burnett was too high, they passed on Nick Barnett and don’t like Lofa Tatupu. Now, the Chargers are hoping for a veteran to get cut who they can sign on the cheap. Unfortunately, hope isn’t a plan and the Chargers are negating a great move they made with Spikes with a bad move by not getting a veteran to play alongside him.

However you slice and dice it the Chargers will never stop being in the Super Bowl conversation as long as they have Rivers throwing the rock to guys like Gates and Jackson. However, in the next few weeks as these questions get answered, we’ll find out if these guys can get past just being part of the conversation and actually be contenders for the title.

Follow me on Twitter @KenCaminiti21

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  • DanielZo9

    why does it seem that the chargers are always the cheapest mother efen team in the NFL? dean AJ whats up? if ur cheap u get what u pay for. show us (the fans) we have something to look foward to. the eagles and patriots are gonna meet in the super bowl unless AJ gets dean and alex bust out the check book. im sick of this BS every year take a chance for cryin out loud!. try harder and stop looking for the easy way out cause thats what it looks like every year!!!!!!!!!. i had to beat the shit out of a faider fan cause he was talking so much shit about us choking! F@#& that!!!

  • sdfootballfan

    I hope we’re talking to Kirk Morrison

  • MarkGarvin

    When you strip all the hype away, that is a clear assessment of our team. If we can’t stop the run with our “hope they can play” OLBs, we could be 2-3 at the bye week. Another slow start for the Chargers to overcome. Drink up boys it could be a long painful season.

  • @kencaminiti21

    @MarkGarvin This team will be competitve as long as the offense is healthy. At first glance though it doesn’t look like they’ll be dominant as the ’06 and ’09 teams.

  • @kencaminiti21

    @MarkGarvin This team will be competitve as long as the offense stays healthy. I don’t know, at first glance, if they’ll be as dominant as the ’06 and ’09 teams.

  • @kencaminiti21

    @sdfootballfan That wouldn’t have been a bad pick up although I question how good Morrison and Spikes would be in coverage. This is why Burnett would’ve been perfect. I’d pull the trigger on Morrison as long as I’m comfortable with Mouton or Butler playing ILB in Nickle or Dime sub packages.

  • MarkGarvin

    @@kencaminiti21 Rivers is amazing. He will make the team competitive with whoever steps on the field. And the O-Line is strong. We will score points that’s for sure. I hope Touchdown Brown shines.

  • @kencaminiti21

    @DanielZo9 I myself wonder sometimes if management really wants to do what it takes to win a Super Bowl while they are in San Diego. You see teams like the Patriots and Eagles making moves and you look at the Chargers roster and wonder why they’re sitting on the sidelines with thier hands in ther pockets. It’s one thing to be PIT or GB where that they have the infrastructure to make that model work but I don’t know if the Chargers front office and coaches have the saavy to consistently draft quality players and then develop them.

  • epadaon

    @KenCaminiti21 happy we ended that lockout! been pimpin since been pimpin

  • A_Eme_O_Ere

    1. Ryan will have a breakout season. His fumbling problem was more a case of him trying to come back to fast from the high ankle sprain. Plus, the kid never fumbled in college. LT fumbled 8 times in his rookie year and see how he turned out.

    2. I don’t know if English is the answer because the guy is never on the field. However, I think Barnes did very well last year and Travis LaBoy is an improvement over the clueless Applewhite and Jyles “the overpaid” Tucker. Our secondary now has Bob Sanders who will make us one of the top secondaries in the league. Could he get hurt? Yes but it’s better to try to be great than try to be adequate.

    3. Seriously? You can’t build your team around the concept that your team is going to suffer major injury woes at every position. There’s not enough money in the cap to be able to do that. BTW, How well did we do last year with Floyd as the 1st receiver? I really don’t remember anybody double teaming Malcolm. Weren’t they doing that to Gates. Now what will the defense do double team VJ and Gates? I can’t wait for the season to start.

    4. After the season was over the hue and cry around the league was that AJ was going to have an impossible job considering the number of free agents he had to sign. Well, guess what? He did an excellent job signing who we needed to sign and trimming off the fat. Luiget will sign and will push Jaques for that starting job. The real good news is that Vaughn Martin is taking to Greg Manusky’s system like a fish to water so Castillo will have someone in back of him pushing him for playing time. While Antonio Garay did a great Superman impression last year making Jamal Williams abscence a non-factor, he has Cam Thomas in back of him.

    5. Although I agree with you here I don’t really think that we had enough money for a Barnett (or a Floyd for that matter). Again, I believe AJ still has over a month to address the situation.

    You and I might think we know how the season will unfold but if there’s one thing about football that is a constant it’s that we really don’t know. Every team in the NFL is 0-0 and I refuse to add to the negative aura that has grown around my Boltz. We have to stop acting as if the Chargers are a last place team and get some positive vibes going in this frigging town. GO BOLTZ!

  • A_Eme_O_Ere

    1. Ryan will have a breakout season. His fumbling problem was more a case of him trying to come back to fast from the high ankle sprain. Plus, the kid never fumbled in college. LT fumbled 8 times in his rookie year and see how he turned out.

    2. I don’t know if English is the answer because the guy is never on the field. However, I think Barnes did very well last year and Travis LaBoy is an improvement over the clueless Applewhite and Jyles “the overpaid” Tucker. Our secondary now has Bob Sanders who will make us one of the top secondaries in the league. Could he get hurt? Yes but it’s better to try to be great than try to be adequate.

    3. Seriously? You can’t build your team around the concept that your team is going to suffer major injury woes at every position. There’s not enough money in the cap to be able to do that. BTW, How well did we do last year with Floyd as the 1st receiver? I really don’t remember anybody double teaming Malcolm. Weren’t they doing that to Gates. Now what will the defense do double team VJ and Gates? I can’t wait for the season to start.

    4. After the season was over the hue and cry around the league was that AJ was going to have an impossible job considering the number of free agents he had to sign. Well, guess what? He did an excellent job signing who we needed to sign and trimming off the fat. Luiget will sign and will push Jaques for that starting job. The real good news is that Vaughn Martin is taking to Greg Manusky’s system like a fish to water so Castillo will have someone in back of him pushing him for playing time. While Antonio Garay did a great Superman impression last year making Jamal Williams abscence a non-factor, he has Cam Thomas in back of him. I think our line will be just fine.

    5. Although I agree with you here I don’t really think that we had enough money for a Barnett (or a Floyd for that matter). Again, I believe AJ still has over a month to address the situation.

    You and I might think we know how the season will unfold but if there’s one thing about football that is a constant it’s that we really don’t know. Every team in the NFL is 0-0 and I refuse to add to the negative aura that has grown around my Boltz. We have to stop acting as if the Chargers are a last place team and get some positive vibes going in this frigging town. GO BOLTZ!

  • DanielZo9

    Hell ya baby I agree lets go bolts!!!….BUT….i am a little worried, this is the NFL and if Mathews is coming in out of shape that’s not good news. it will catch up to us (hopefully not in the playoff) so i hope Tolbert is ready. I followed Mathews at Fresno st. I was so happy when we drafted him but hes not running like he did in college. It looks to me like hes trying to hard, kinda nervous looking too. I hope he can handle the pressure of replacing LT. I’d like to see him be smoother. smooth is fast.

  • @kencaminiti21

    @A_Eme_O_Ere I don’t think there is a negative aura around the Chargers. I think people are passionate about the Chargers, want them to do well and have an opinion but at the end of the day we all want the same thing. I’d rather have a team that matters, that we can have real opinions about rather than a team like lets say, the Padres who are dismissed and more of a punchline than a discussion topic.

    And BTW– depth is a key in the NFL. It’s probably the reason why the Packers, who went 5-6 deep at WR, made the playoffs last year and the Chargers did not. You are very wrong about not having a contingency plan in place in case of injuries.

  • @kencaminiti21

    @DanielZo9 I thought Matthews showed potential last year so that is why I was disapointed when he showed up to camp out of shape. I’ve had fun giving him a lot of shit over the past few days but all can be forgiven if he goes for 1,200 yards and scores around 10 TDs. If Matthews isn’t ready though I think Tolbert is ready to be a starting RB.

  • A_Eme_O_Ere

    @@kencaminiti21 It’s just that the whole article concentrated on the bad while not mentioning anything good. I was just trying to represent the “glass is half full” argument. Real opinions from passionate fans will always be okay in my book. But is the pre-season and even teams like Carolina are full of hope at this time of year. I just think that a team that has equaled Don Coryell’s best four years needs more of a break.

    I know that depth is important. But your forgetting that at one point the Packers had just lost to Detroit, had lost their quarterback to concussion and were 8-6 and nobodies favorite to win the SB. They put as many people on IR as the Chargers but none of them were receivers, they were mostly LB’s. Although they lost their TE for the season Greg Jennings, Donald Driver and Jordy Nelson did not miss a single game last year.

  • A_Eme_O_Ere

    @DanielZo9 We gave $11 million to VJ, $8 to Weddle, $5 to Clary, and AJ also signed Barnes, Cesaire, McMichael, Mruczkowski, Volek and Washington. Don’t forget that we also gave Antonio Gates and Marcus McNeil huge contracts last year. How is that being cheap? Takeo Spikes is the perfect replacement for Cooper. Profootballfocus.com says that the guy has only missed 4 tackles in the last three years. We also got Bob Sanders the ex-NFL Defensive Player of the Year a much better acquisition than getting Haynesworth. And the next time you see that raider fan tell him how stupid the raiders are for losing Nnamdi, Miller and Gallery and STILL being over the salary cap by $15 million dollars.

  • A_Eme_O_Ere

    @@kencaminiti21@DanielZo9 The Steelers are over the cap too. They have to cut $8 million dollars from their payroll by tomorrow.

  • @kencaminiti21

    @A_Eme_O_Ere@kencaminiti21 Well, the post is about things we need to evaluate heading into camp not great things about the Chargers… so it was a more critical look at the Chargers. I thought it was a fair assessment.